After months of speculation about the quarterback position in 2023, we appear to finally have some clarity about what it will look like. There could still be potential changes and surprises ahead, but the Falcons now have their young potential starter in Desmond Ridder, and they’ve added the veteran that seems likely to compete with him this summer.
That would be Taylor Heinicke, the 29-year-old Atlanta native who started 24 games for the Washington Commanders over the past two seasons.
The contract likely indicates he’s exactly what I’ve thought the Falcons would target: a high-end backup who can make starts if Ridder is injured or falters.
For the #Falcons and Taylor Heinicke, it’s a two-year deal worth up to $20 million, per source. Atlanta has said Desmond Ridder is the starter, and that's top-end backup money. https://t.co/6OctczWRPj— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 14, 2023
Jacoby Brissett was atop my personal wishlist, but the Falcons don’t make decisions based on that, for better or for worse. Heinicke is a fine choice given his experience and experience, and undoubtedly former Washington executive Kyle Smith’s prominent voice in this Atlanta front office was a factor in the signing.
Heinicke, originally an undrafted free agent by the Vikings, bounced around a bit before finding a home in Washington. Regardless of the quarterback situation there the past couple of years, the team wound up needing to rely on him, and he threw for 32 touchdowns and 21 interceptions over the past two seasons, including a nearly full season of starting in 2021.
Why is Heinicke a fit? There are a few factors.
He was tied for 11th in the NFL last year in terms of intended air yards, so he has no problem airing it out, something the Falcons made a priority last year even though Marcus Mariota had an uneven go of it. Heinicke can move around well enough to keep plays alive and scramble a little when asked to, though the latter is not central to his game, and offers solid enough accuracy. The Falcons have also gotten a pair of firsthand looks at Heinicke under Arthur Smith and have seen him threw for five touchdowns against just one interception, which probably never hurts even though we all know a thing or two about this Atlanta defense.
In short, he’s clearly good enough and a good enough fit for this staff to feel confident in him if they need to lean on him, but isn’t so good that the Falcons are going to make him the unquestioned starter. Heinicke’s penchant for taking costly sacks and throwing picks makes him a bit of a wild card the longer you have to rely on him, so the ideal would be that we only see him in short stints in relief of Ridder and in extended preseason action this year.
This obviously points to Ridder being the 2023 starter, something that was challenged at every turn by Lamar Jackson rumors, draft intrigue, and a solid enough portion of the fanbase unwilling to accept that the team might be rolling with a former third round pick. The team’s obvious appreciation for Ridder when he was drafted, Arthur Blank’s unusually outsized praise for him earlier this year, and the team’s preferred team-building approach made me think we’d likely see Ridder under center at least for 2023, and at the moment it appears that’s exactly what will happen.
Heinicke will be part of the mix this summer and should be expected to be no worse than QB2 heading into the year, however, and he’s a fine choice for the duties. Give him a warm welcome to Atlanta, and we’ll see what lies ahead for the Falcons at quarterback.